The answer is simple: nothing at all! And yet the topic is still very complicated.
“I’m a huge fan!”
Chances are, you’ve said this at some point in your life. Whether you were talking about a genre of entertainment or a particular series, everyone has something they really like. You also may have been accused of not being a true fan or not being nearly as big a fan as someone else.
But what makes a fan? Watching or reading a series? Visiting fan and news sites? Or is it spending money?
Fans and Spending
Megumi Ogata, a famous voice actress and singer, recently caused a controversy when she posted a series of tweets expressing extra thanks to those who purchased tickets to her concert. Some fans felt offended, feeling like their support isn’t valued unless they buy tickets and merchandise. Others pointed out creators and artists can’t survive on well-wishes alone.
So did her fans have a legitimate gripe, or was this another example of the Internet overreacting?
Let’s say you make something. A record, a device, whatever. Person A likes your product and wishes you well but doesn’t buy it, Person B buys one, and Person C buys ten. Do you — or should you – offer the same levels of gratitude among all three customers? A good entrepreneur will not want to offend any of their fanbase, but I think it’s natural to be extra grateful to those who support you the most. Person A may have absolutely no disposable income, but you can’t survive without somebody buying it. One item may be all that Person B can afford, but selling one copy isn’t enough to break even. On the other hand, business can’t continue with an attitude of, “I don’t care if you buy or not.”
However, fan support can’t only be defined in business terms. Let’s go back to the case of Ogata. Some people can afford to go to Ogata’s concert; others can’t for logistical or financial reasons. Should she be grateful for someone paying a lot of money to see her sing? Of course. People are spending money to see her instead of going to another concert, going to a restaurant, seeing a movie, etc. That doesn’t take away from her appreciating other fans that buy her CDs, go to her events, or even those who just turn up the radio when one of her songs come up on the air. I buy a lot of manga. Does that make me a better fan than someone who only buys a few volumes a year? No. Because I know that someone out there buys more than me. I don’t think fans should be ranked according to their pocketbooks.
But there are a group of fans I wish to discuss: the ones I call free-riders or bums.
Some of you will already protest you have no money to buy the official releases. You have to watch or read it illegally. Ignoring the “have to” part of that statement, you can help pay your favorite artists and creators without spending a dime out of pocket. Lots of anime and manga titles are available for free to stream or read.
So who are the free-riders? They’re what I call the fans who clamor about how they are a series’ biggest fans but always try to weasel out of supporting them. They want other people to admire their knowledge and passion, but they put no money into supporting their series. Basically, having them as a fan is privilege enough.
Let’s give an example using one of the most popular legal sources: Crunchyroll. Despite almost all their series available to stream for free, a lot of people still watch the series on illegal sites or use adblocking software. These fans are essentially trying to have their cake, eat it, and still skip out on the bill. If you’re such a fan of a series, how does skipping the ads support a second season? How does watching an episode on a different site to avoid the one-week delay help the creators, animators, voice actors, directors, and more? Even buying a keychain or a T-shirt isn’t going to make up for the missed revenue.
A lot of people defend their practices with, “Well, they get exposure and attention!” For instance, some people argue that manga scanlations help drive up sales. Here is an interesting piece from Kodansha Comics USA. In the post, they say:
“Though there was a time when most publishers referred to scanlations during licensing, and maybe some still do, we don’t. The other manga publishers I’m familiar with don’t either.
It’s because we’ve learned from experience that highly-requested series usually produce sales that come in under expectations.”
Titles like Gakuen Alice have bombed despite being one of the top series on scanlation sites. When Yen Press announced last year they had picked up some more light novels, some people were upset. Now they have to wait years for it to catch up! They’re not going to buy the volumes since it takes too long to translate! They did not buy the original Japanese novels, but they don’t want to buy the English ones either. What do authors like Satoshi Wagahara, Ryohgo Narita, and Kazuma Kamachi get out of having “fan support” like that? Not to mention their series’ artists, editors, publishers, etc. What would their “fans” say if they met the creators? “Hi, I love your work. I just don’t buy it!”
So how much do you have to spend to be a fan?
Fandoms are supposed to be fun. People are already divided into categories, and I don’t think we need to lord the fact some people can spend more than others. As a business, of course companies and creators are going to be extra grateful to big spenders.
Of course, if you really do love a series, you should try to pick up a copy! Fanart and talking about it is nice, but anime and manga are ultimately businesses that relies on sales. On the other hand, that does not mean small-volume customers should be ignored. Lots of people are passionate about what they love while still living within their means, and there are plenty of free legal streams and manga sites out there that allow these fans to continue supporting their hobby.
The only “fans” worthy of scorn are those who do nothing to financially — directly or indirectly — support series they claim to love.